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USDA to use $500K for hemp-seed bank, co-located at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva

By Eric Reinhardt


Larry Smart, professor in the horticulture section of Cornell University’s School of Integrative Plant Science, works in a greenhouse examining industrial hemp. (Photo credit: Justin Muir and Cornell University website)

ITHACA, N.Y. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS) will use $500,000 in federal funding to create the nation’s “only” industrial hemp germplasm repository, or a seed bank.

It’ll be co-located at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva, the university announced.

Cornell AgriTech is the new name for the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, Cornell University said on its website.

Industrial hemp is used to make a wide range of products, including fibers, textiles, paper, construction materials, cosmetics and food.

“The hemp-seed bank and the research potential it gives our Cornell and USDA-ARS scientists will be vital resources for New York state farmers,” Kathryn Boor, dean of Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said in a news release. “We are grateful to Sen. Schumer for his hard work to secure this federal funding.”

Schumer role

The funding builds on U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer’s (D–N.Y.) contributions to the 2018 Farm Bill, Cornell said.

The 2018 Farm Bill changed federal policy regarding industrial hemp, including its removal from the Controlled Substances Act and its “consideration” as an agricultural product.

The change “created an agricultural opportunity potentially worth billions of dollars,” and Cornell will play a “major” research role as that industry grows, “thanks” to Schumer’s effort, the university said.

“I fought tooth and nail to secure this federal funding,” Schumer said in the Cornell news release. “While also working to strip back the burdensome federal restrictions that held our farmers and growers back from growing industrial hemp as an agriculture commodity, because I knew the potential this crop had to transform the upstate New York economy.”

Seed bank purpose

The hemp repository is a “desperately needed resource,” Larry Smart, professor in the horticulture section of the School of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS), said in the Cornell news release. The seed bank will enable researchers to identify pest-resistant and disease-resistant genes, giving them the tools to breed new varieties.

Getting to the root of crop health, Smart noted, is “essential” for providing better resources for New York hemp growers.

The USDA-ARS will use the new repository to maintain the germplasm and collaborate with Cornell scientists, where they already partner on research for grape, apple, cherry, tomato and Brassica crops.

Understanding and cultivating these living, genetic resources provide the most promising ways to support local growers. The market for hemp has already “skyrocketed” in the U.S. Cornell cites the Cannabis Financial Network, which indicated the hemp industry was projected to grow from $400 million in 2016 to $2.1 billion in 2020.

Beyond New York, the new seed bank will benefit hemp growers all across the nation, Cornell contends. Christine Smart, professor in the plant pathology and plant-microbe biology section of SIPS, said these resources will let them breed hemp varieties that will grow well under different conditions.

“The more germplasm that scientists have access to,” Smart said, “the better the chances are that we’re going to breed plants that are useful, whether it’s for managing pests or specific climates.”

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